Hey, we let you hang in mid-air!
Wondering what happened us. Are we alright ? What are we up to now ? Did we make it home? How do we feel about the whole experience and most importantly of all did we ever find out anything about that lady ,La Doña Sofia, in Granada?
Well, yes we made it back and have been spending some time letting the memories, thoughts and emotions sink in. Each of us in our own way.
Since returning, I’ve read the 3gosouth blogs and found it very interesting to compare them to emails,letters and diaries I kept during our 1999 round-the-world trip.
I’ve been looking at lots of photographs too, both of this trip and the last and remembering all the wonderful friends we met along the way. Friends who became like family for us.
Right now, I’m sitting in Connemara looking at three photographs laid across my kitchen table. My young illustrator has retired, he’s outside playing football in the wind so there are no drawings today, I’m just going to have to describe them for you. Bear with me, I think they’re worth it
Photograph 1 Circa 1939
This one, I took ,in La Doña’s house ,during our trip to Nicaragua in 1999. You remember La Doña? Back in April,I wrote about going to Granada to find out what had happened to her.
We had met her first during our round-the world trip; she was wonderful to us and appears all over my old diaries and correspondence.
On the 25th of October 1999 I sent this short ‘ we’re alive email’ to family and
‘Granada, Nicaragua. having a ball, attending Spanish classes, living with wealthy widow in great house. beautiful weather’
Billy and Nan.
So this first photograph I want to describe for you ,is old, very old. Black and white. It’s a snap that struck me as soon as I saw it. A photograph that told a story or at least hinted at an untold story, so with my camera I captured it. It’s a copy of a framed picture hanging in La Doña’s sitting room wall, behind her rocking chair.
In it La Doña stands with her two sisters; she is the tallest, the eldest. They appear to be in their twenties. La Doña is beautiful;she wears a pale coloured dress. Three large buttons are visible down the centre, possibly there is another on the top but an ermine fur coat draped around her shoulders covers it .She is wearing white leather high heel shoes and a matching white leather bag that hangs from her left wrist.
She wears jewellery; bracelets and pearl earrings;her hands are clasped in front of her.
Her dark hair is short ,pulled back from her face . Her face is round full-cheeked healthy looking and her skin is perfect. She is smiling. Her lipsticked lips smile at someone or something to the left of the camera, she is not looking at the lens but staring off to the distance.
She is standing on a sidewalk in New York,on a corner. Tall leafless trees rise up behind her.
To her left are her two sisters. Like her they are dressed elegantly with dresses, lipstick and jewellery.Their hair is short too, perhaps it is the style of the time.
When is it ? I wonder. The girls look so young. Perhaps La Doña is about 21. If so it means it was about 1939. New York just before World War Two. But perhaps it’s later, La Doña always looked young for her age.
Photograph 2 1999
The second photograph shows an equally very young, fresh-faced Nan and I standing next to La Doña and her carer Yolanda. It was taken inside La Doña’s house on the 2nd of November 1999.
La Doña holds us close, an arm around each of us. She is elegant; wearing a purple diamond patterned dress.
She wears jewellery, earrings,a necklace and a wedding ring.
Her salt and pepper hair is short and pulled back from her face .Her skin is tanned and clear. She has high cheek bones and a strong face and looks at the camera with deep blue eyes. Her lips are joined together into a thin smile, she is sad because we are leaving.
Yolanda stands next to me . She has short black curls and a darker complexion than La Doña. She wears a pretty pink and white floral dress and large round white earrings and pink high heels. She has dressed especially for the snap, in fact it was her idea to take it. She has a serious expression, this picture is important for her, she has made us promise to send them a copy. She only has very few photographs of herself.
All four of us are pictured, Nan had wowed them by putting on an automatic timer so the camera did the business. It took a wide sweeping photograph so we see more of the house than is intended. We see plants and furniture. Religious pictures and a crucifix.
We see a set of rocking chairs that La Doña tell us was imported from Austria. They are 80 years old, a year younger than her. There are beautiful paintings hanging on the walls beside that just-described photograph of La Doña and her sisters in New York. La Doña is immensely proud of that picture.
Behind all of us, the main front doors are open to the street. By day they were always open; people came and went, shared gossip and talked politics. During our stay we met La Doña’s brother ,Alberto,who fought with the contras. La Doña and her family were firmly anti Sandinista ;they claimed they had set the country back fifty years. They spoke excitedly in Spanish, speeding up all the time as they told me about the President’s marriage the previous week to a Miami schoolteacher. It was a scandal, they claimed. The bride was 23 yrs younger than the President and was the talk of Nicaragua.
Back then during our trip in 1999 we spent many days on the footpath outside the house, sitting in the majestic Austrian rocking chairs, chatting in the gentle breeze from Lake Nicaragua. We sat and spoke with Daisy, one of La Doña’s sisters from the photograph. We admired the rocking chairs so often that Daisy arranged to drive us to Masaya to buy a set to post back to Ireland. The rockers were tempting but we didn’t buy them. We’ve often thought that we should have though!
We were having the time of our life and emailed friends and family on the 29th of October 1999 to let them know.
Dancing every afternoon to the tunes of salsa and meringue. After Spanish classes in the morning, Nan and I are taking dance classes with all the other gringos in the city on this balcony overlooking the old colonial plaza. It’s great except for all the bats circling around our heads, we are staying with an 81 year old ex teacher who talks to us for hours about the Sandinistas( schools can look them up) life is good here, the food is fantastic except we have gallo pinto every day( rice and brown beans). On Monday we are leaving (reluctantly) and going to the Corn Islands in the Caribbean off the coast of Nicaragua,
Billy and Nan
Like La Doña in the photograph we were very sad to leave;we knew we would never meet her again.
Photograph 3 2016
In the final photograph laid out on my kitchen table, there are three people. Darragh sits on a white plastic chair in the centre. He is wearing a blue vest top with Nicaragua written across in black ornate font. He wears grey shorts and green flip flops; he is sweating and his face is red. It is the 15th March 2016, the hottest month in Nicaragua and there is no air-conditioning or fan in this house.
Behind him Yolanda, La Doña’s carer, is standing, looking over his shoulder at the small photo album in his hands. She is wearing a white house coat, her dark curls are flecked with grey and she is wearing glasses to study the album she has given him.
It is the photograph of the four of us from our 1999 trip that I have just described for you. We kept our promise and posted it onto Yolanda all those years ago; she had kept it safe and shows it to Darragh when we arrive so unexpectedly at the door. Welcoming us by name instantly without any hesitation ‘Billy and Anna’ she says hugging us as if we had been gone 10 minutes,not seventeen years.
She is giddy with excitement at meeting Darragh, thrilled that he can speak Spanish but unhappy that Nan has forgotten hers.
In the photograph Darragh is leaning to his right,holding the album up to La Doña.
She is happy. She wears a simple mustard coloured dress; there are no buttons.
She wears no jewellery except for her wedding ring.
Her snow-white hair is short, it is pulled back from her face. Her face is thin,her skin dabbled with flat brown spots. One eye is slightly closed, the other open. Her sight is affected by her ninety-eight years but she is smiling and she looks at Darragh’s hands, at the photograph of the four of us all those years earlier.
She was difficult to find. The house is a different one, she has downsized to a back street where the front door must be closed even by day. The Austrian rocking chairs are gone too, sold to pay bills. Gone too are the beautiful paintings .All that remains on the wall is the old black and white photograph of the three young sisters in New York.
Behind her is a crutch that she uses to walk around the city,. She is thinner and frail but able to move around
Our reunion is emotional,she is overjoyed to see us, welcomes us like family. Her mind and memory are perfect.
We visit many times over our month in Granada and Yolanda always prepares gallo pinto for dinner. La Doña loves our visits, she still loves to talk.Over many hours, she tells us all about her life. Her parents who were Liberals from Rivas who started a hide processing business in Conservative Granada. Her mother who died when La Doña was only eighteen and her father who helped out families in need.
She tells us about her work and the children she taught.She tells us how she started working as a teacher in 1936 aged eighteen and taught for sixty years.For forty years she travelled fifty kilometres each way to work in Colegio Centro America in Managua and then after she retired she worked in Granada as Vice Principal in the local secondary school.
She tells us about Granada; how she has seen the climate change, that there is no rain anymore in Nicaragua and Granada is no longer green. How the medical system is good and free. How the Cubans helped the country but the Sandinistas ruined it.
She talks and talks; all about her husband and not having children. About her sisters that emmigrated to the United States. The sister who married the Irish man in New York. About Alberto and Daisy. ‘All gone now, I am the last’ she tells us.
We are so blessed to have the opportunity to meet La Doña and Yolanda again; we would never have imagined it possible.
We are reluctant to leave;we know this time for sure we will never meet again. La Doña is sad but rallies and invites us to her birthday party.
‘I am a hundred in 2018, you’ll be back for the party’ she says as we leave.
‘Why not?’ I think
Thanks for reading,